Story Salon: Interlandi

This story was read aloud at Story Salon (.com) on Wednesday March 17, 2010.

     I met Frank Interlandi when I began working at a bar in Laguna Beach called The Saloon.
     Every morning Frank would begin his day by drinking at the Marine Room Tavern, and shorty after 12 o’clock, he would walk towards home and stop at the Saloon for a drink on the way. There was never anyone other than Frank in the bar on a weekday afternoon. On weekends, if there were people in the bar, he would just keep walking on home.
     Frank and his twin brother Phil were both of Italian lineage, short and a little stocky, with a quick wit and a quick turn of temper.
     Frank and I got on wonderfully.
     He was what I wanted to be, an artist living off his trade, a person who had made his own life, confident in his art.
     Frank was a painter and a cartoonist. His political cartoons had been gracing the pages of large newspapers for 30 years. His paintings had never become famous, and by now, in his mid 70’s he was no longer painting, he was drinking.

     Every day Frank and I chatted for an hour or more.
     Frank told me his views on history and politics and art and religion. I listened to everything he said avidly. He expoused theories on life, and told me to contemplate them, and when I tried to return to the subject a few days later, he had forgotten, as he was drunk, and wanted to talk about something else.
     He taught me words to remember, like scatology. Which is perfect Frank humor, because it means the study of shit.

     Frank told me of going to art school in Chicago on the GI Bill. He told me of going into advertising as a painter/sketcher. He told me of how is twin brother moved to Laguna Beach in the 1950’s and how he quit advertising, and followed his brother to the west coast to become an artist.
     He told me of the years when he and a collection of artists in Laguna Beach met every afternoon at a local restaurant to drink and talk.

     Frank didn’t get along with everyone. He had been divorced for years. Mitzi, his ex-wife still lived in town, and a son lived in San Diego and a daughter somewhere else. He never discussed his wife, and only once in awhile did he mention his son, and I assumed it was a painful subject.
     At Frank’s funeral three weeks ago, neither of his children seemed broken up. And I realized that I don’t ever remember him visiting them, or them visiting him. Once when he was really drunk he made an offhand comment about the women who used to come into his artist studio and I got the implication that he did more with them than just use them as models. But I could be wrong.
     Frank thought women were frivolous and shallow creatures. If, when sometimes it was not Pete or I working the afternoon shift and Irene was there, he just walked on by, because he didn’t want to talk to her.
     Frank told me a few times that women were only good for one thing, and he would smile and hold his fingers in a triangle, and ask me what the most expensive piece of real estate in the world. With sarcasm in his eyes, he would call it The Golden Triangle”, the patch of hair between a woman’s legs.
     But Frank also told me that men were stupid, because men thought they made the decision on sex. Women knew if they were going to sleep with you or not, the only thing a man could do was hope it was going to happen.

     When Frank got more drunk than usual, he would repeat his stories, here are a few I heard more than once.
     His favorite cartoon that he created, written in the 50’s or 60’s,was two men talking, one asked the other, “What would you do if there was an atomic attack?” After a few empty frames the other man answered with just one word, “Shit.”
     Frank would ask, with a bulging chest and a gleam of sarcasm in his eyes, if he had told me about the time he had captured two German officers. Frank had previously told me that in 1944 he had landed on a beach in France and walked to Germany. He showed me a picture once of a very young Frank in uniform, leaning against a tank, with snow all around, with the red medical cross on his arm.
     He also told me that once he arrived in Germany he went from camp to camp looking for his twin brother who had been captured by the Germans, and as Frank would tell it, “You know what I did, I walked up to people and said,” as he pointed to his own face, “have you seen someone who looks just like me?”
     So one night, as the war was winding down, Frank was inspecting an abandonded farm house in Germany. He thought he saw a light in the forest so he went to investigate. Blindly he stumbled across a fire, where two German officers sat warming their hands. They, being surprised to see him, jumped up and held up their hands to surrender.
     Frank told them that there was probably a road in that direction, with a convoy of prisoners, and they probably should probably go that way.
     He always told that story with a smile and a laugh.
     I asked Frank for other World War Two stories, but that was the only one he would tell.
     One afternoon he arrived shaking and had two quick drinks before he would talk. Finally, when he had calmed down, he said he walked out of Saving Private Ryan after 10 minutes and never mentioned it again.

     I got the message that Frank had died from my bother, it had been many years since I had seen Frank, I had left Laguna to go wandering and he had continued to drink and deteriate.
     At the funeral there was two things I realized.
     One was that the only war story he told was of the captured German officers. Frank was a combat medic, and the snow in that photograph meant that he was in the Arden Forest, probably at the battle of the bulge. He must have seen horrors, but he never discussed them with anyone I knew.
     The other thing that I realized was how he died. I admired Frank, I admired that he had a chance to become rich in advertising in the 1960’s, but he gave that up to be a painter and cartoonist. I admired his sarcastic wit and how he looked at the world. I admired how he lived his life.
     But there was another side of him, the side that got a divorce, the side that never saw his kids, the side that drank every day, and I realized that I wanted to live as an artist like he did, but somehow not end up alone and drunk at the end.

     But I will leave you with Frank Interlandi, standing on the steps about to leave the bar, and saying what he always said, “I’ll see you again, god willing and the crik don’t rise.”

Frank Interlandi at The Saloon.

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